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The effects of religion on an ethnic enclave’s placeness

The effects of religion on an ethnic enclave’s placeness
Mohamed El Tayeb
Chang Gyu Choi
Issue Date
Studies about “placeness” have recently gained popularity among scholars. The concept can be differently defined or interpreted depending on the field, but they all seem to agree that placeness is the mental construct that occurs when the activities and physical settings that form a place are recognized, interpreted, and infused with meanings and feelings. In the process of defining what constitutes the significance of places, religion has often been ignored and marginalized despite its vital role in the lives of individuals. Religion can constitute a noteworthy component of people’s communal and private lives: It can dictate their lifestyle choices, eating habits, taboos, dress codes, companions, places of residence, places of worship, socialization, collective gatherings, and public participation. This effect of religion on placeness may be more noticeable in ethnic enclaves where new immigrants retain their own language, culture, and sensibilities. This study set out to explore the effect of religion on placeness and the perception of the elements, meanings, and feelings that form it. As such, it is the first study to attempt to quantitatively investigate this relationship. The research focuses on the so-called “Islam Street” in the international neighborhood of Itaewon, where the Muslim community has fostered a local Islamic culture. The mosque, restaurants, and markets are helping the Muslim community to prosper and maintain its own culture within the space of Itaewon—itself a multicultural and permeable space that allows for the difference in contrast to the normative nature of Korean society. Religion’s effect on placeness was explored through a comparison between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to their respective awareness of the Islam Street’s components and their meanings, their level of identification with the place, and their level of attachment to the place. A sample of 250 individuals was interviewed: 125 Muslims and 125 non-Muslims. The results were statistically analyzed through the t-test method and a logistic regression analysis to reveal the variables affected by religion. Through this research, we were able to shed light on how religion may affect the way we perceive places and the meanings and feelings we infuse those places with. In the religion-based ethnic enclave of Islam Street, homesickness and vitality were the meanings respondents referred to most frequently. Furthermore, a logistic regression analysis demonstrated that place attachment to the Islam Street neighborhood was the emotional variable most significantly affected by religion. Understanding the way religion affects our sense of place and placeness will provide designers and urban planners with a new tool to conceive meaningful places that matter to everyone. In the case of Itaewon, this can only enhance the intercultural community that Itaewon embodies and that the Korean Government is trying to endow Seoul with as it matures into an international city. Given the strong place attachment and sense of nostalgia that the Muslim community ascribes to Islam Street, the study recommends the reconsideration of the redevelopment plan of Itaewon. This tabula rasa plan was mainly catalyzed by the relocation of the American Military Base, but the gentrification it would entail threatens this international Muslim community and the meaningful space its members have created for themselves. With such a high possibility of losing a strong organic community, we propose that the project is redefined as an urban regeneration project, one of South Korea’s newer policy initiatives. Doing so may boost Seoul’s tolerance index considerably, which will help to enhance Seoul’s global image. Given that tolerance is one of the most important components of the “3 T’s” of creative cities, this will help to provide Seoul with a higher creativity ranking.
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